Karimov the Prodigal Son


Japan is not a member of the Shanghai Cooperative Organization, but it must pay careful attention to relationships between the states of Central Asia, Russia and China. In particular, after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in September last year, the situation regarding Central Asia, Russia and China is changing rapidly. This may well exert a subtle influence on future Russia-Japan and Sino-Japanese relationships. This is an opinion column, but I would like to write a light essay covering the Shanghai Cooperative Organization and the subtle relationships between its members.

In June last year, the Shanghai Cooperative Organization summit conference took place. I was shown a commemorative photograph taken at that time, which depicts President Putin, President Jiang Zemin, Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev, Kyrgyzstan’s President Akayev and Tajikistan’s President Rakhmonov lined up on the right. In contrast, Uzbekistan’s President Karimov alone is standing a little apart on the left of the photograph, seeming somewhat dejected. In fact, this was the first time that President Karimov had been formally admitted as a member. Even so, there was no air of welcoming a new member – rather, it seemed as though the other countries were regarding Uzbekistan rather coldly. The following is my explanation of the photograph.

In July 2000, when the conference took place in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, President Karimov, who was participating for the first time as an observer, received a warm welcome from the other countries, including President Putin. President Karimov, who had rebelled against Russia and, unwilling to be controlled by it, seceded from the CIS Collective Security Treaty, was given a welcome reminiscent of the return of the prodigal son. Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which had all originally behaved well in their relations with Russia, may have been a little discontented to see President Karimov made a fuss of by President Putin, but they remembered that which is written in the Bible and endured the situation.

Even though President Putin had welcomed President Karimov in this way in July 2000, in late September of that year, President Karimov embarked upon a shocking affair with an enchantress in the form of the Taliban. Until then, President Karimov had been terrified by the expansion of the Taliban’s power and the Islamic extremist militia groups that had built on the resulting momentum. As a consequence, he took the most hard line stance vis-a-vis Islamic extremists, but out of the blue he made a complete u-turn in terms of his attitude and issued a statement recognizing the Taliban regime.

In fact, the real story is that he was intimidated by the fall of cities in Northern Afghanistan to the Taliban, and the statement was issued as a compromise. President Putin became furious with President Karimov about the country’s infidelity and inclination towards the Taliban, and because of President karimov’s wild accusation that “the threat of Islamic extremists is being exaggerated. This is just a pretext for controlling Central Asia.” Consequently, President Putin asserted that Uzbekistan’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in June last year should be postponed for a little while. Having said that, he had it at the back of his mind to welcome Uzbekistan into the fold in June 2002 at the conference in St. Petersburg, as a favor to be repaid later. However, China was a conciliatory intermediary and it was decided to admit President Karimov to the group in Shanghai. President Nazarbayev strongly objected to the entry of his rival President Karimov, who sees himself as the leader of Central Asia, but eventually, with China and Russia acting as intermediaries, the countries of Central Asia agreed to the formal admission of Uzbekistan. The photograph depicts a scene in which everyone is facing President Karimov, saying “We’ll let you off this time, but we will not tolerate you taking liberties and being unfaithful to us again.” Then, President Karimov also seemed to regret his affair with the Taliban a little, and showed some remorse. Therefore, he is hanging his head in shame somewhat.

That is my explanation of the photograph; however, when I visited Shanghai last autumn, I heard that it was just that, immediately before the photograph was taken, President Karimov happened to be talking to one of his staff and was a little late in joining the others in gathering for the picture. I really did hear this from someone responsible for the organization of this conference.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11th last year, Uzbekistan allowed the U.S. to station troops on its territory and there are rumors that, in exchange for large-scale support from the U.S., it has signed an agreement permitting the long-term use of its bases. This time around, Russia was displeased about President Karimov’s excessive cozying up to the U.S., but President Jiang Zemin was even angrier than President Putin. This is because China does not trust President Bush as much as President Putin does, and it cannot tolerate American bases being established in Central Asia. It does not look as though President Karimov’s stint as the region’s prodigal son is over yet.

[Translated by ERINA]